MOOC Anxieties

The next step in my career path requires me to be able to demonstrate reading-level proficiently in a foreign language.  I won’t get into specifics, but due to this requirement I’ve decided to make it my New Year’s resolution for 2017 to, at the very minimum, increase my working knowledge and vocabulary within the sea of the French language.

I have a bit of a background with the language: a few years in middle school and high school combined with two years of college-level coursework. Unfortunately, I’m no longer fresh with the language, and short of enrolling in some sort of language-immersion group (which is far different from language instruction) or taking a stand-alone course at an institution of higher learning, there aren’t many available options for me that seem more advantageous for structured learning than a MOOC, or massive online open course.

My experience with Coursera was a largely positive one, though I can’t say I learned as efficiently as I have in other settings due to a variety of unique MOOC conditions. I won’t outline them here, but while Coursera was a solid fit for learning the Python computer coding language, I’ve decided on Carnegie Mellon’s online learning initiative as being the best fit for my French learning endeavor.

In all fairness, I want to disclose the fact that my education included both some minor and major caveats surrounding online education- for the most part, its teaching and pedagogical course-design aspects, rather than its impact on a student’s particular learning procedure.  Pedagogical theory has long-emphasized the affective and emotional avenues students interact with course materials through, and with this in mind I’ve decided to pay particular attention to what’s on my mind as I begin this course. So, in the interests of critiquing my own learning process, here’s a small list of anxieties and possible problems I foresee. At the end of the 15-week course, I’ll post a response detailing the results of these “hypotheses.”

  • Time.  You’re busy, I’m busy, the dog next door is busy.  There’s no real accountability for this course- it’s free and there’s no ending outcome in the form of a degree or earned college credit.
  • Instructions.  They’re sometimes in French!
  • Class structure.  It’s different from what I, or anyone who’s been through a typical high school or college education, have been through.  Video lectures aren’t the same as in-person lectures- you can’t really talk back or ask questions right away, instead having to rely on email or comments from a professor.  The medium is the message. YouTube and message boards aren’t an 8:00a.m. Monday morning classroom.
  • Relationships.  Will I make one with the professor teaching the course? What about the other students I’m learning alongside?
  • Merit.  My purposes don’t really require official documentation, standardized learning outcomes or institution supervision, but it would make me feel better (and likely improve my dedication) knowing others might recognize this course as worthy of my time.  At best, I’ll add a line to my CV reading proficient in basic French.  I’ll perhaps even let my CV’s readers know I completed the course, primarily to display a personal dedication to learning.
  • EDUCATION.  Will the course teach me French? Will it cover the topics I’ll be “tested” on later in my career?
  • Enjoyment.  I have a real appreciation of languages of all kinds, and I foresee myself enjoying immersion in French just as much as I did in high school.  Will the impersonal nature of distance learning impact this?

There’s a lot to be said on the topic of distance learning– which I briefly tackle elsewhere— but it’s tremendously valuable to theorize and critique our own pre-course biases if we’re to understand processes of learning, education and language intake.



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